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The Curious Case of a Black Man Wanted for Murdering a White Child in Small-Town America

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 20:00

HBOOral “Nick” Hillary is a military veteran and All-American collegiate soccer player (and Division III national champion) who, in 2011, became the prime suspect in the murder of his former girlfriend Tandy Cyrus’ older son, 12-year-old Garrett Phillips. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, nor any rational motive, but police zeroed in on him almost exclusively from the start. In the tiny upstate New York town of Potsdam, Nick soon became notorious for supposedly committing this heinous slaying. Almost three years later, on February 2, 2015, he was indicted for the crime, this despite the case against him being completely circumstantial.Nick, by the way, is black. And the Potsdam community is predominantly white.Race is the prime factor of Liz Garbus’ excellent new two-part HBO documentary Who Killed Garrett Phillips? (premiering July 23 and 24), since numerous elements of its story suggest that the color of Nick’s skin played a big part in his eventual prosecution. Yet while the latest from director Garbus (What Happened, Miss Simone?) is, first and foremost, a saga about criminal justice system inequity, it’s also something more: an unsolved mystery about the death of a young boy that’s woefully short on concrete answers.What’s known for certain is that on the afternoon of Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, between approximately 4:55 p.m. and 5:08 p.m., Garrett Phillips was fatally strangled and suffocated in his apartment at 100 Market Street (he passed away from his injuries approximately two hours later at the hospital). Hearing disquieting noises from Garrett’s place, neighbors called the police. The responding officer thought he heard sounds coming from inside. Once he gained entry, however, all he found was Garrett, as well as signs that the perpetrator had jumped out a rear window to the street below.‘Behind Closed Doors’: How a 13-Year-Old Girl’s Murder Ignited Class WarfareThe Wildly Popular TV Host Accused of Killing People to Boost His RatingsThere were no eyewitnesses, but trace amounts of DNA were discovered beneath Garrett’s fingernails. After speaking to the Phillips family, detectives quickly focused on Nick, a father of five who’d begun dating Tandy after meeting her at a bar, and whose relationship with her had ended over reported tensions between him and Tandy’s two boys. Nick had an alibi (he was at home with his eldest daughter, and then beginning at 5:21 p.m., with his friend/colleague Ian), and his DNA didn’t match what was found on Garrett. He also had no reason to commit murder, unless one believed that he wanted revenge against Garrett because he blamed the boy for his split with Tandy.Nonetheless, rather than chasing any other leads or considering other possible suspects, the Potsdam cops made Nick their sole target. In damning video presented by Who Killed Garrett Phillips?, local and state police officers call Nick in for an interview under false pretenses, then grill him on his culpability, and finally physically bar him from leaving—and, shortly thereafter, force him to strip nude for photos. They do this to see if he has injuries consistent with a scuffle with Garrett or a fall from a tall window. But given that cops later testify that such a practice was never used before, it reeks of demonizing intimidation. The fix is in, it seems, and that impression only mounts when District Attorney Nicole Duvé decides to not arrest Nick (due to lack of evidence)—and, as a result, loses an election to new DA Mary Rains, who campaigned on the promise of bringing Nick to justice.That it takes nearly 30 months to indict Nick—this after a first indictment is thrown out because Rains harassed Nick’s daughter during a deposition—is merely one of many signs that something crooked is being perpetrated in Potsdam. Guided by interviews with nearly all of the principals involved (save for Tandy), Who Killed Garrett Phillips? is a real-time portrait of a racially charged railroading. The DA’s office refuses to recognize the flimsiness of their circumstantial case, which is almost wholly predicated on security camera footage of Garrett skateboarding in the school parking lot minutes before his death, and Nick leaving the same area moments later in his car. Their central argument: because Nick turned left out of the lot, in the direction of Garrett, rather than turning right to return directly home (which is where he claimed he went), he was clearly “hunting” the boy minutes before the murder.Nick’s inability to properly explain this behavior/discrepancy is certainly suspicious. As Garbus’ film elucidates, though, it’s the only thing that casts doubt on his innocence; even a late DNA test that links him to the homicide (after numerous prior exculpatory ones) proves inadmissible in court. Consequently, reasonable doubt is pervasive, and that’s underscored by numerous scenes, shot over years, of Nick caring for his kids with devotion and compassion, even in the face of enormous community vilification.Nick Hillary, one of the subjects of the HBO documentary Who Killed Garrett Phillips? HBOWho Killed Garrett Phillips?’s access to Nick, his lawyers, Garrett’s relatives, news reporters and the trial itself is comprehensive, and its timeline-centric storytelling is lucid and nerve-wracking. If the film feels like it sides with Nick’s position, it’s because of both the time it gets to spend with him, and his persuasive declarations of innocence. No matter how often police officers and prosecutors contend that Nick is a cold-blooded murderer, the person seen through Garbus’ lens comes across as a Wronged Man. Which means, per The New York Times’ Albany Bureau Chief Jesse McKinley, that either Nick is a pathological fiend, or there’s still a killer on the loose—two options that are equally chilling.Like many recent true-crime series, Who Killed Garrett Phillips? is a tale without a definitive conclusion. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that, in this instance, police bias seems to have heavily influenced the circus that erupted in and around Potsdam. Nowhere is that more evident than with regard to John Jones, a sheriff’s deputy who had dated Tandy until she left him for Nick, and whose role in immediate post-murder events—calling dispatchers to get intel on what was happening; staying with Tandy overnight and then accompanying her, hand in hand, to police interviews—was more than a bit fishy. Jones had a clear motive to both kill Garrett and frame Nick—namely, his furious resentment at having been replaced by a black man—but he barely registered on his fellow cops’ radar. And when Jones was photographed by cops, you won’t be surprised to hear, he was allowed to keep his clothes on.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.


UPDATE 2-Syrian state TV reports Israeli attack in southern Syria

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 19:18

Syrian state television said on Wednesday that Israel struck a strategic area in southern Syria overlooking the Golan Heights where Western intelligence sources previously said Iranian-backed militias are known to be based. The newsflash on state-owned Ikhbariyah did not give details, but said the strike was directed on Tel Haraa, which had long been an outpost for Russian forces but was later taken by Iranian-backed militias, according to Western intelligence sources. Diplomatic sources familiar with Syria said at the time these overnight attacks outside Damascus on Iranian-backed forces, including bases of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah group, were among the largest strikes attributed to Israel in recent years.


House Democrats unveil more 'realistic' climate change plan

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 18:52

A group of U.S. House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a climate change plan they said featured a "more realistic" goal to cut carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 rather than by 2030 as envisioned under the Green New Deal introduced early this year. Solar and wind companies have criticized the Green New Deal, introduced by Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Edward Markey in February, as unrealistic and politically divisive. Representatives Frank Pallone, Paul Tonko, Bobby Rush and others said on Tuesday they would draw up legislation late this year that aimed to avoid the worst effects of climate change including intense droughts, storms and floods.


Girl tossed into the air by charging Yellowstone National Park buffalo

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 18:46

The girl, from Odessa, Florida, was in a group of roughly 50 people who were standing near the bison for about 20 minutes in the Old Faithful Geyser area on Monday before it charged, Yellowstone officials said in a written statement. The victim, who was not identified, was treated by emergency personnel at Old Faithful Lodge and released. In June 2018, a Yellowstone bison gored a woman after a crowd surged within feet of it, according to the park.


Two teen suspects sought in Canada murders of US-Australian couple

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 18:02

Canadian police on Tuesday named two suspects wanted in connection with three murders, including the killings of an American woman and Australian man whose bodies were found in rural British Columbia. Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, had been reported missing in British Columbia but are now believed to be on the run. Both suspects are considered to be dangerous, police said in a warning to the public.


In chaotic scene, ex-judge dragged from Cincinnati courtroom, sentenced to jail

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 18:01

Chaos erupted in a Cincinnati court when a former judge had to be dragged from the room as she was sentenced to a six-month jail term.


Puerto Ricans gather for largest protest yet to oust Gov. Ricardo Rossello

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 17:49

Thousands of Puerto Rican flags fluttered in the morning breeze as demonstrators arrived from across the island Monday for what many expected to be one of the biggest protests ever seen in the U.S. territory.


They exist: rare clip shows uncontacted tribe under threat in Brazil

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 17:31

Rare video of one of Brazil's last uncontacted indigenous tribes has been released to help raise awareness about threats to their survival, campaigners said on Tuesday. The footage, shot by indigenous filmmaker Flay Guajajara and lasting about 1 minute, shows an Awa tribe member in the woods holding a knife, seemingly unaware he is being filmed. "This video shows that they do not want to be contacted, not even by the Guajajara," said the filmmaker, himself a member of the Guajajara tribe and part of Midia India, a charity that gives voice to indigenous communities in Brazil.


France tells Iran to return to compliance in nuclear deal -foreign ministry

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 17:16

France's foreign ministry told a senior Iranian envoy on a visit to Paris on Tuesday that Tehran had to return to compliance to the nuclear deal and take the necessary steps to ensure the de-escalation of tensions in the Gulf. Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi met President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. Macron has tried, but struggled, to initiate a mediation between Tehran and Washington over tensions in the region.


Hate crime charges possible after Hindu priest attacked in Queens

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 17:15

Police are investigating a violent attack on a Hindu priest in Queens, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has ordered the state Hate Crimes Task Force to assist.


Border Patrol Has Kept a Teenage U.S. Citizen Locked Up for Nearly a Month

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 16:15

Despite his family’s lawyer providing his U.S. birth certificate, law enforcement refuses to release him.


Sorry, AOC: Moderate House Democrats Have Their Own Climate Plan

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 16:03

House Democrats rolled out a climate agenda Tuesday as their caucus attempts to draw a distinction between New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s approach to tackling global warming and a more moderate plan.Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee announced they would pursue legislation calling for net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a far less ambitious plan than the Green New Deal, which aims to complete the emissions target by 2030. Democrats criticized Ocasio-Cortez’s idea during the roll-out.“The majority of the Democratic caucus is behind aggressive, but not socialist, climate policies,” Paul Bledsoe, who advised former President Bill Clinton on climate issues, told reporters, according to Bloomberg. “They worry the Green New Deal rhetoric could alienate rather than attract swing voters needed in 2020.”“The climate crisis is here, and it requires serious federal leadership that’s up for the challenge,” Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey told reporters.Reps. Paul Tonko, head of the Environment and Climate Change subcommitee, and Bobby Rush of Illinois, head of the energy subcommittee joined Pallone in the press conference. Ocasio-Cortez didn’t attend, Bloomberg reported.The GND, as it has come to be known, sought for a “10-year national mobilization” to shift the country to 100% “zero-emission energy sources” — a lofty mission given that fossil fuels account for more than 80% of U.S. energy consumption in 2018.


Fact: U.S. and Israeli F-15s Went to War in a Simulated Fight. Who Won?

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 15:58

Noteworthy according to Times of Israel IAF Red Air gave the Blue forces a tough time during defensive missions to protect Blue forces and installations.Twelve F-15Es assigned to 494th Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force (RAF) Lakenheath, England recently completed biannual training in Israel in support of exercise Juniper Falcon. As told by Tech. Sgt. Matthew Plew, 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, in the article U.S. Forces complete Juniper Falcon 17-2, the Strike Eagles flew missions with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) accomplishing training on Defense Counter Air (DCA), Interdiction, Large Force Exercise (LFE), and Electronic Warfare (EW) range work.


France seeks European surveillance to secure Gulf traffic

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 15:31

France says it's working with its European partners on an observation mission to ensure maritime security in the Persian Gulf, where tensions have climbed with Iran's seizure last week of a U.K.-flagged oil tanker. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made no mention of a Europe-led "maritime protection mission" announced a day earlier by his British counterpart, Jeremy Hunt, offering instead what seems to be a softer version. France is working "at this moment on a European initiative" with Britain and Germany, he told lawmakers, without elaborating.


Videos of water being dumped on police officers create stir

Top Stories - Tue, 07/23/2019 - 15:30

Cellphone videos of people brazenly dousing uniformed New York Police Department patrolmen with water have sparked outrage and led police officials to urge the force not to tolerate the behavior. Asked about the dousings in an interview Monday with local news channel NY1, de Blasio responded that "they are two very different incidents, one of which was not confrontational, the other of which was.


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